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Exploring the Emergence of a New Political and Economic Order in 18th century Rajasthan

Malhan, Meera and Saksena, Shalini (2020): Exploring the Emergence of a New Political and Economic Order in 18th century Rajasthan.

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The collapse of the Mughal Empire in Rajasthan during the first half of the 18th century initiated important reconfigurations in its polity, society and economy. Emergence of regional political order and a new notion of commercialisation widened the sphere of engagements of merchants and traders and this had enduring consequences for the economy of Rajasthan. This paper traces the trajectory of the structural changes that ensued from the political disintegration of the Mughal order and emergence of local princely governance. Specifically it looks at i) the emergence of the non-peasant sector in agriculture, ii) the rise of a cross-caste mercantile class in the state and iii) change in commercial relationships under the new governance between the principalities, traders, artisans and the merchants. The research is based on insights from rich archival primary sources from the Rajasthan State Archives in Bikaner, focusing primarily on careful and extensive examination of the Bahis, to ascertain the changes in the village structure that took place as the regional gentry tried to combat the political and financial crisis that it faced in the early 18th century. This study finds ample evidence of thriving trade and growing commercialisation and monetisation in the regional economy, resulting in economic prosperity in most parts of Rajasthan. The study thus establishes the fact that the so called 'dark age' era during the 18th century, characterised by the process of economic and social decay, was not universal.

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